Meet Merinda Hensley, Digital Scholarship Liaison and Instruction Librarian

This post is part of our series profiling the expertise housed in the Scholarly Commons and our affiliate units in the University Library. Today we are featuring Merinda Hensley, Associate Professor and Digital Scholarship Liaison and Instruction Librarian.


What is your background education and work experience?

I got my BA in Political Science and Environmental Policy from the University of Arizona. I always thought I would work in DC for a non-profit or for the government but when we moved to Illinois in 1999 I decided to volunteer for AmeriCorps instead. As a volunteer, I administered a local rental assistance program. That was a really tough job, helping fill out paperwork for people that needed money to make a rent payment. I learned that while I thought I wanted to be on the front lines of social work, it was too easy for me to get attached to people’s situations. After I had my daughter, I decided to apply for a position at the Champaign Public Library. At the time I was also taking a course at the iSchool to see if librarianship was right for me. That was an easy decision! I kept my position at CPL until I was offered a graduate assistantship in the Education and Social Science Library. To round out an already very busy schedule, I was also offered a position working with the Information Literacy and Instruction Coordinator, which ended up being serendipitous because I never thought of myself as a teacher.

What led you to this field?

Since I was a child I knew I wanted to contribute to society in a way that would help make the world a better place. Until I found librarianship that always felt cliche and too big to be real for me. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I was reminded how energetic I feel when guiding someone through a real world problem. I come from a family of teachers – my mom was a high school math teacher and my nana was a first grade reading teacher. Being a “traditional” teacher never resonated with me and in fact, I’ve sworn more than once I would never be a teacher. It turns out my view of teaching was short sighted and one dimensional. In library school I learned about information literacy and I immediately saw the potential in empowering students and faculty to learn how to use and find and create information.

What is your research agenda?

I am focused on developing effective ways to teach students critical thinking skills that translate into a lifelong ability in finding, evaluating, using, sharing, and creating information. As an instruction librarian, I investigate emerging methodologies for how librarians can extend our information literacy mission into new areas, especially the factors that influence the decisions students make as creators of new knowledge. I also work with my colleagues to design best practices that assist students at all levels in understanding scholarly communication, a process through which scholarly work is created, evaluated by the academic community, disseminated through presentations and writings, and perhaps most importantly, preserved for future use. My research contributes new discoveries to teaching and learning for librarianship, and enhancing how libraries support students as they identify as scholars including preparing academic librarians to lead this transition.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite part of my job is when a student has an a-ha moment while I am teaching. Students have a hard time hiding when they are excited and that makes me extraordinarily fulfilled.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think it’s really important for undergraduate students to learn about the value of institutional repositories. Ours is called IDEALS and anyone affiliated with the university can submit their research (including conference posters or PowerPoint slides!) for archiving and a permanent URL for their resume. For the past year, I’ve been working on a project that will collect undergraduate theses and capstone projects into IDEALS from across all disciplines. In addition to keeping a record of the research students have engaged in at Illinois, it also provides future students the opportunity to pick up research questions where previous research left off.

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer.

Interested in contacting Merinda? You can email her at mhensle1@illinois.edu, or set up a consultation request through the Scholarly Commons website.

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